/ Published April 30, 2019
Chief: My Journey Thru Iraq at the Peak of War by Scott H. Dearduff. Dearduff Consulting Agency, 2013, 376 pp.
CMSgt Scott H. Dearduff uses his memoir, Chief: My Journey Thru Iraq at the Peak of War, to present a detailed account of his time serving as the senior enlisted advisor to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander at Balad AB, Iraq. His tour, which began in July 2006 and ended in July 2007, was a time of increased combat operations and increased casualties that caused numerous leadership challenges that he describes throughout his book. From receiving notice of the deployment until his return home more than a year later, Dearduff holds little back while examining the professional and personal challenges he confronted. In doing so, he leaves his readers with a sense of fulfillment for the accomplishment of the Air Force mission and tragedy for the Airmen who fell in the line of duty.
Dearduff succeeds in his deliberate effort to relate to the reader several of the more personal stories of Airman and military members serving in Iraq that he feels are often overlooked by the media. He has the advantage of a unique perspective of Air Force operations given his extensive daily interactions with Airmen of all ranks—from Airman first class through general officer—and professions, from the support personnel who remained on base for the entirety of their tours to security personnel who frequently went beyond the wire. He offers descriptions of the various missions accomplished by pilots, aircrew, explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) Airmen, pararescuemen, special agents, medical staff, and various support functions, using his position to help his reader understand how these various elements worked together in a
challenging combat environment. Indeed, the author’s deep appreciation for the work of special agents, pararescuemen, security forces personnel, and EOD personnel is ever apparent throughout the book as he details his frequent interactions with them and efforts to ensure these Airmen have sufficient resources to accomplish their objectives.
Throughout the book, Dearduff describes his passionate efforts to honor fallen Airmen, 13 of whom were killed during his tour. Several of the stories Dearduff tells, including those of EOD Capt Kermit Evans and F-16 pilot Maj Troy “Trojan” Gilbert, will be familiar to readers having been extensively covered in media and other accounts of the Iraq War. He offers moving accounts of both officers and other fallen Airmen based on his personal interactions with the fallen Airmen themselves and their units. In doing so, the author gives his readers a brutally honest understanding of the sacrifices that many Airmen are called upon to make in combat zones, the emotions their comrades experience over their losses, and the need to quickly return to work despite significant emotional challenges. He follows these themes through to the final entry of this book, dated 19 December 2016, when he writes a rather detailed and moving account of the internment of Major Gilbert’s remains at Arlington National Cemetery. Without a doubt, this account will leave the reader with a sense of tragedy and closure.
Several times, Dearduff focuses on matters of discipline that may strike some readers, both with and without military experience, as rather petty. One example is when he describes his interactions at the dining facility with two female Airmen from the medical group who are not wearing their physical
training uniforms properly, drawing a conclusion that they may not be following the standards of their immunization clinic if they are not following the standards of uniform wear. This encounter so troubles him that he chooses to eat his meal in his own quarters instead of with his Airmen in the dining facility (pp. 111–12). The reader may be left wondering why Dearduff dwells on several of these minor details given the more immediate threats to the lives of Airmen that he worked to mitigate on a daily basis.
Another shortcoming of the book is that Dearduff often refers to important discussions and events in passing without describing their significance and consequences in greater analytical detail, depriving the reader of more extensive insights that he certainly has to offer. For example, he describes morale and leadership challenges he encounters while visiting Airmen at a forward operating base on 14 May 2007 but does not engage in an assessment of what these challenges could be attributed to (pp. 238–41). His insights into such challenges would be interesting to readers who face similar scenarios in their own careers.
Despite minor shortcomings, Dearduff’s memoir is an engaging read for those interested in the operations of an air base during war from a senior enlisted member’s point of view. Given his experience with Airmen of all ranks and backgrounds, Dearduff offers a more nuanced approach of the Air Force mission than many accounts in the media or memoirs by junior enlisted and officers of all ranks who focus on specific missions without placing them in a broader context. Many accounts of the modern USAF focus on specific communities and operations without necessarily focusing on a larger picture of
how these various functions cooperate in a deployed environment to accomplish their collective missions. Dearduff successfully reminds his readers of the necessary cooperation across career fields, both operational and support, that ensures the success of the US Air Force.
Capt Herman B. Reinhold, USAF